Biography of Famous Alcoholic and Writer Edgar Allan Poe

About the famous American writer and alcoholic Edgar Allan Poe, about his struggle with the disease.

EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849). American poet and short-story writer; considered the father of the modern detective story.

Orphaned in early childhood, Poe was adopted and raised by a wealthy Virginia merchant. He was sent to the University of Virginia, but was promptly expelled for drinking and gambling. Later, he was admitted to West Point, but, after just 7 months, drunkenness and indebtedness caused him to be dismissed from the Academy and he was disowned by his foster father.

A college classmate wrote: "Poe's passion for strong drink was as marked and as peculiar as that for cards . . . without a sip or a smack of the mouth he would seize a full glass and send it home at a single gulp." He was slight of build and sickly, subject to flights of fancy and fits of depression. His low tolerance for alcohol was described thus by his biographer, Hervey Allan: "The effect upon Poe of even a small quantity was all out of usual proportion. He seems to have been so sensitively organized that a dram . . . was sufficient to make his actions and conversation unusual. One glass was literally too much; 2 or 3 were disastrous; and a continued round reduced him to a caricature of himself."

Poe, at 27, married Virginia Clemm, who was 13 years old and tubercular at the time; when she died in 1847, Poe, in his anguish and despite failing health, sought relief in alcohol and drugs. He died after a drinking bout, while stuffing ballot boxes during a Baltimore election, at the age of 40.

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